American Made(4 / 5)
Scarface, 1932 and ‘83. Goodfellas. The Wolf of Wall Street. War Dogs. American Made is just the latest film to take aim at the dark, opportunistic side of the American dream.
“Based on a true story”, as such films generally are, American Made is the story of Barry Seal, a pilot extraordinaire turned TWA lifer, recruited by the CIA in 1978.
Having started out taking recon photos over Central America, Seal made a few new friends along the way – a trio of Colombian businessmen later known as the Medellin Cartel – and, being the entrepreneurial sort, started branching out.1
So, what separates Doug Liman’s film from the rest of the pack? Surprised as I am to say it – Tom Cruise, who delivers here in more ways than one. Strongly critical as I was of The Mummy, in which the real monster was arguably Cruise’s ego, American Made shows what he’s still capable of when paired with a filmmaker he trusts.2
Whether he’s taking off from a too-short runway while overburdened with cocaine or desperately fending off grabby contras with a baseball bat, Cruise brings a self-deprecating charm to the character of Seal; a guy who’s clearly out his depths but managing to make it work with just some expert piloting skills and a roguish grin.3
Gary Spinelli’s screenplay brings the necessary energy to its depiction of the increasingly complex geopolitics that offer Seal and his handler, “Schaffer” (a beardy Domnhall Gleeson) such diverse opportunities: running guns (to Nicaragua then, unbeknown to the CIA, to Columbia), trafficking insurgents (from Nicaragua to the US); all part of the White House’s conflicting wars on both drugs and Communism.
Cinematographer César Charlone brings a warmth and intensity to the film that recalls his earlier work on City of God and strong acting support is provided by the likes of Sarah White as Seal’s much younger Lucy, caught up in his shenanigans; Jesse Plemons as the conflict-avoidant county sheriff; and Caleb Landry Jones as Lucy’s creep-idiot brother J.B.
More a satire than a moral fable4, less a rise and fall than a gradual descent, American Made leans into the inherent absurdity and hypocrisy of the Reagan Era while never losing track of the human story. It even manages to generate some genuine pathos for Seal, “the gringo who always delivers”.
If Cruise’s days as an out-and-out action hero are approaching an end,5 then American Made suggests he might just have found his new cruising altitude.
The Limehouse Golem(2.5 / 5)
An implicitly feminist Victorian murder mystery inspired by Hammer Horror. What’s not to love?
In The Limehouse Golem, Bill Nighy stars as Inspector John Kildare, a conscientious gentleman copper charged with the unenviable task of identifying a savage killer who’s been indiscriminately butchering the denizens of Limehouse.
The gutter press is baying for blood and so too is the great unwashed British public; traipsing through his crime scenes without much heed to good-natured plod George Flood (Danny Mays). Sherlock Holmes would have had a conniption fit. Nevertheless, the investigation leads from a defaced novel in the British Library – on which the case might hinge – to an imprisoned music hall star, Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), sentenced to hang, and whose life Kildare endeavours to save.
Nighy brings his usual blend of jauntiness and sensitivity, for which he is, in my eyes, rightly beloved6, but it’s Cooke who truly shines. She elevates Elizabeth’s journey from ugly, tragic origins on the misty, murky streets of old London Town to the warmth and comfort of the theatre beyond cliché; making her mark, as Elizabeth does, through sheer grit and vivacity.
Based on the novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, by Dan Akroyd7 Jane Goldman’s script8 draws out the theme of patriarchy: the roles it forces us play, the indignities to endure, and the violent, occasionally psychotic impact this has upon society.9
The more literary contrivances of Akroyd’s novel don’t translate quite as neatly; fun though it undoubtedly is to see a menacing, bushy-bearded Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) – complete with cod German-Jewish accent – saw the head off a corpse.10
The Limehouse Golem‘s suggestive blend of stark present and hazy flashback11 brought to atmospheric life by director Juan Carlos Medina and cinematographer Simon Dennis, is ultimately brought low, however, by the demand for dramatic irony.12 The film is too – albeit lovingly – creaky in places to be a first-rate potboiler.
Still, it’s nothing to start murdering the underclasses over.
- Though American Made is the superior film, there’s both a specific overlap with The Infiltrator.
- The pair worked together on 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow; now green-lit for a sequel.
- We also get to see Cruise make his escape a kid’s bike while covered in cocaine, which suggests he’s not being overprotective of his movie-star persona for once.
- The film’s one overreach might be in delivering a follow-up explanation to its perfect final punchline.
- As his injury on the set of the new Mission: Impossible might suggest.
- The role was originally earmarked for the late Alan Rickman (to whose memory the film is dedicated).
- Leno himself, a tragicomic stage dame by trade, and Elizabeth’s confidante, is played by a fey, chiselled Douglas Booth.
- She also adapted The Woman In Black.
- Kildare, for instance, is dogged by rumours about his sexuality; though the film never delves into this beyond a sort of grace-note.
- Though Marx is, from the point of view of the mystery, clearly being a *cough* red herring.
- Gas-lit in more ways than one.
- Ask yourself, who would be most shocking as killer and you’ll figure it out pretty much at once.